Fant-Asia: 2008 San Diego Asian Film Festival – It's Baaaack

Big Man on Japan Campus
Big Man on Japan Campus

At last year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) audiences squeaked and freaked at the outrageously warped horror/sci-fi film fortune cookie features that were uniquely Asian with movies like I’M A CYBORG BUT THAT’S OKAY; THE VICTIM; and ANG PANAMA. These far-out films were deliciously wrapped around a whole afternoon with George Takei and his traveling one-man factory of stories that were carried live on the worldwide web of Internet insanity. Well, move over 2007…the 2008 SDAFF is coming in for a landing more powerful than the Starship Enterprise crashing into Klingon.
Starting the crash landing is DORORO, a Japanese fant-asia film set in 3084, where Japan’s future has taken a giant step backwards and where samurai wars still exist but monsters and demons control the country. Hyakkimaru (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a warrior born out of 48 demons and his quest is to find and destroy these demons in order to become human and create peace between the warring clans. As Hyakkimaru follows the red brick road to Kagemitsu’s bloodletting Oz (which includes battles against a giant spider, a large tongue-wagging lizard, blood-sucking caterpillars, and a demonic butterfly to name a few), he is joined by Dororo (Kou Shibasaki), but eventually Hyakkimaru’s dream of becoming human melts into a demonic nightmare.
And what Asian film festival would be complete if it were not replete with a hearty helping of the architectural angst of Japanese anime. From the creators of APPLESEED, comes VEXILLE, wherein director Fumihiko Sori’s edgy and brooding undertone pays freakazoid homage to the shabu-shabu pot of BLADERUNNER, MATRIX and ROAD WARRIOR uniquely boiled into the underpinnings of GHOST IN THE SHELL and STAR WARS. In 2067, Japan’s robot technology is so advanced that against UN regulations they isolate themselves from the rest of the world. This of course makes the paranoid Americans believe that Japan has now become a major threat to the world, so the future George Bush sends in special forces led by Vexille (voiced by Meisa Kuroki), who discovers that Japan has eked out some shocking unknown technology that sends up more red flags than the Chinese fans at the 2008 Summer Olympic gymnastics venue. Naturally as things go awry, cybernetic tyranny goes far beyond Dr. Who’s attack of the cybermen.
The last time we were vexed by a boy and his “talking” dog, Don Johnson gained Hollywood notoriety with his telepathic “blood” relationship in A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975). Perhaps influenced by DEAD LIKE ME, Takeshi Kaneshiro’s (THE RETURNER) eerie role as the Grim Reaper, who walks the earth with his talking dog in ACCURACY OF DEATH, ventures not so much into the macabre of death but the celebration of life. Takeshi plays more of an Angel of God assigned to spend a week with each of three unfortunate humans at three different periods of time, who have been chosen to suddenly die: In 1988, a young office lady, who lives an unlucky life she hardly considers worth living, is nearing the chopping block; in 2008, the death-worthiness of a middle-aged yakuza trapped in the middle of a gang war approaches that proverbial guillotine; and in the future, a feisty hair stylist, who has reached the end of her life and alienates her entire family, is wickedly close to the ax-man’s coming. It is the Japanese Grim Reaper’s job to decide if any of them deserves a second chance or if he must levy upon them the ultimate tax.
The menu culminates with a duo of manga mania. Directed by Hideo Nakata, L: CHANGE THE WORLD is a spin-off of the riotous crowd pleaser DEATH NOTE anime TV show and live action film, where in this rendition, the slightly Goth hero L (Kenichi Matsuyama) must save the world from a group of fanatical eco-terrorists who unleash a biological weapon on the planet. A huge box office success in Japan, this film established Kenichi as a superstar and matinee idol and it is not only required viewing for DEATH NOTE fans, but is also a viral must see for all.
By parodying everything from classic Japanese kaiju television like ULTRAMAN to pro wrestling, BIG MAN JAPAN is mirthful manga mockumentary where a TV camera crew yawningly follows around middle-aged loser Dai Sato (Hitoshi Matsumoto) and just as the mundane reaches abysmal ultra-boredom, Dai gets a call from the “Department of Baddie Prevention.” After electrocution treatments, Dai transforms into Dainipponjin (Big Man Japan), a 500-foot tall superhero who must now protect Japan from an enclave of bizarre giant monsters such as the eyeball monster and the repulsively repugnant Stink Monster.
For those unable to make it to San Diego for these cool films, do not fret: titles such as DORORO, VEXILLE, L: CHANGE THE WORLD and even I’M A CYBORG are available for purchase at However, if you are able to commit yourself to this wild and wooly fest, which runs from October 9-16 and features more than 120 films from 17 countries, check out

Leave a Reply